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The Healthy Food Guide team believe that making small diet and lifestyle changes brings the best long-term gains. We look at the science behind the headlines and promote a balanced way of eating.

They’re a must-have with the turkey and pretty enough to adorn our alternative Christmas cake – but you may be surprised at what else cranberries  can bring to your festive table…

 

1 An alternative Christmas cake 
Make our gorgeous cranberry-studded sponge and decorate it with fresh berries and a drizzle of icing. Created by HFG’s recipe consultant, Phil Mundy, it’s the perfect centrepiece for a festive table. 

Cranberry christmas cake

Make a quick compote
In a pan, put finely sliced orange zest, orange segments and juice, along with fresh cranberries and a little sugar. Cook gently until the juice has thickened and gone syrupy. Delicious for breakfast, either on cereal or with some low-fat natural yogurt.

Whip up some festive scones
Dried cranberries have a sweet-sour tang that works fantastically in baking. To make cranberry scones, just add a handful of dried cranberries when you mix in the wet ingredients. Try adding a pinch of cinnamon for extra warmth, too.

Have a go at stuffing
Make the basis of your stuffing from pork sausage meat, onions, celery and breadcrumbs; then add pears or apples, cooked chestnuts and some dried or fresh cranberries.

5 Put some tang in your mincemeat
If you’re making your own mincemeat this Christmas, add some fresh cranberries when cooking to offset the sweetness of the dried fruit. You won’t need many – around 10% of the weight of dried fruit is enough for some welcome sour notes.

Pop some into mulled wine
Add some cranberries to the mix along with oranges, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and star anise. Let it simmer away, making sure it doesn’t boil: the cranberries will go soft and soak up all the lovely flavours.

Glaze a baked ham or gammon
First, make a sugar syrup – bring 1 part water to the boil and add 2 parts sugar, stirring, until the sugar has just dissolved. Reduce the heat and add cranberries, lemon zest and thyme. Cook for around 10 min until the cranberries have burst, making sure the syrup doesn’t caramelise in the process. Push the mixture through a sieve, so you have a smooth glaze, and whisk in a little arrowroot if it needs thickening. Score the fat on the joint of meat and brush with the glaze before baking.

Serve a low-cal cocktail
Give your guests an attractive, low-calorie granita to end the night. Make a simple sugar syrup (see no 7) and add fresh orange juice, zest and cranberries, cooking gently until the cranberries burst. Cool and strain the mixture and pour into a shallow tray. Freeze for about 4 hours, breaking up the ice crystals with a fork every 30 min after the first 2 hours. Serve in shot glasses topped with a little Cointreau or Grand Marnier.

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Make a special breakfast
For a tasty granola, mix together oats, almonds, shredded coconut and dried cranberries. Mix in a little sunflower oil to toast and maple syrup for sweetness and spread the lot on to a baking tray. Bake in a low oven for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

10 And, of course, the sauce
To make a traditional cranberry sauce to go with the turkey, says Phil, ‘Simmer 250g cranberries with the zest of  1 orange and the juice of 2 oranges, 75g caster sugar and 3tbsp port until the berries have burst. Then cool and add an extra 1tbsp port before serving. It’s so easy, why settle for ready-made?’

What about their healing reputation?

We asked HFG nutritionist Fiona Hunter whether it’s true that cranberries help fight cystitis. She says: ‘Cranberry juice or supplements may help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), such as cystitis, in women with recurrent infections, according to a review of 10 studies (no controlled trials have been carried out with dried or fresh cranberries). They contain substances called proanthocyanidins (PACs), which have been shown to prevent E coli bacteria – the cause of UTIs – sticking to the bladder wall. The amount of juice you’d need to drink to get the benefit hasn’t been established, though – and there’s no evidence it will help to treat UTIs once they’ve occurred.

‘Watch this space, though – these PACs may also guard against the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers, as well as those responsible for tooth decay and gum disease, so we could yet see cranberry extract in toothpaste.’